58 hours in Iceland

ICELAND

Overview

Yes, you read it correctly- we DID fly to Iceland knowing that we will have a total of 58 hours from the time we land early Friday morning until we take off back to Boston Sunday afternoon. It may sound unreasonable, but it was well worth it and felt like a much longer trip. November 18th is our wedding anniversary and we knew we wanted to celebrate it in a special way. We got married in Miami, so initial thought was to go back there for a weekend escape. When we started looking at tickets, we could not find anything for less than $250 a piece. Then we counted in the hotel cost and the fact that we have been to Miami several times already- well, long story short, we decided that it is not worth it.

Iceland was on our radar for quite some time and we know a lot of people that have been there and loved it. So we checked WOW airlines website and saw that the flights for this weekend were only $125 each way! It was a no brainer- we are going to Iceland!

FRIDAY

SLEEP IS OVERRATED

Flight from Boston left Thursday evening- we took off less than an hour before the first snow of the season started- bye Nor’easter! I have to say- WOW airlines were pretty good- no delays, seats had enough space, but other than that you get nothing. No free food, not even water for a 5.5 hour flight. Be mindful that you have to pay for the carry on- we only brought one for the two of us. But they allow personal item as well, which is not that very small- some people carried duffle size bags as their free personal items. We  also came prepared- had dinner at the airport right before we left, filled up water bottles as soon as we passed the security and had a small bag fully dedicated just for snacks. It was plenty for the flight as well as for the road trips in Iceland.

Travel tip: carry either collapsible water bottles or empty water bottles before the security and fill them up at the airport before getting on a plane. We do this for all flights, even the ones that provide food service. That way you don’t need to keep on asking for water throughout the flight. Healthy snacks are essential part of our packing routine- Larabars, dried mangos, trail mix is much healthier and tastier than the airline provided options.

We landed around 5am local time, went through customs without any delays and thought we’ll have breakfast at one of the cafes at the airport. Well, just before we ordered that much needed coffee- we were told that the cafes are only for transit or departing passengers only! You have to present your boarding pass and if you are arriving and going into the country, you need to leave the terminal for any food. That was a bit of a disappointment- outside the terminals there were very few options, but we got our coffee and a healthy smoothie and decided to pick up our rental car and drive to our first destination- Blue Lagoon.

Travel tip: Make sure to check the car thoroughly before leaving the rental car parking lot. Get proper insurance- we added gravel protection since one of the roads we planned to take had unpaved section. Interesting fact- insurance does not cover ripped off doors caused by the wind in Iceland. I never knew this would even be a concern until this trip. The wind gusts were SO strong at times, it was hard to walk/stand. When you open the car doors, you have to be very mindful so it does not rip open or hits another car parked nearby. Insurance also did not cover tires, so we drove very carefully around any potholes, but I have to say- roads in Iceland are very well maintained easy to drive on. The car already had winter tires on, so it took some time to get used to the sound they made while driving- it’s a lot louder than usual.

BLUE LAGOON

IMG_2043

20 minutes drive from the airport and we are here! The famous Blue Lagoon! To me it was a MUST. I could not picture visiting this country and skipping the Blue Lagoon. Was it all the hype? In my opinion it is special. Would we NEED to return there on the next trip to Iceland- not really.  Well, maybe, only if there was less wind 🙂

Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in the lava field. It is a man-made lagoon, which is filled by the water rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and is supplied by the nearby geothermal plant and renewed every two days. The mineral  water is believed to have healing powers for eczema and overall beneficial for skin health. We definitely left feeling silky smooth!

We booked a Premium package ($78pp) which was a step up from the Comfort ($55). The main difference was the use of a robe and slippers and a second facial mask. Pre-booking is required and I assume that is how the staff can manage the amount of tourists that are visiting the place every day. We arrived at 7am, since our flight landed so early and we got the rental car very quick. We were not the first ones in the dark and windy parking lot. By the time the Lagoon opens at 8am the parking lot was at least half way full with more buses coming in. Tired as we were, I am very glad we did this attraction first thing in the morning- we got to swim in the lagoon while it was still dark (sunrise was at 10am), saw the sky brighten up and it was like being in a totally different place- a bit surreal.


 

Because most people had Comfort package, we did not have to stand in line and were one of the first ones to enter the warm milky blue water. For that reason alone I would say it’s worth paying a bit more for the Premium. If the weather was warmer and we had any desire to walk around the lagoon, then the robes would have been a must as well. However, it was VERY cold and windy out, so we spent the whole time submerged in the water up to our necks and for that reason, we used the robes very little.

 

Travel tip: If you don’t want to freeze by taking the robe off in the cold- do NOT enter lagoon through the main door out. As soon as you exit the changing rooms, take a left and you can ease into the water right there! So when you open the door, you are already submerged and do not have to freeze  at all.

Because of the minerals in the water they advise to put a lot of conditioner in the hair, so it does not dry out. It is provided in the showers, so we lathered it on. I wore contact lenses and had no issues whatsoever. Sean did not have his glasses on, but they would not have helped to see much – the steam rising from the water would have been covering them anyway. We got smoothies at the swim up bar and the masks that came with the package. I was worried it would irritate the skin, but it was nothing of sorts. We washed them off in the same water, applied another one and my skin never felt softer after.

 

We spent 2.5 hours in the lagoon and that was just about all we could handle. The wind was blasting and the head covered in conditioner did not feel particularly warm, while the rest of the body felt amazing. We were grateful it did not rain- there is one little cave and a few bridges for some shelter, but other than that you are in the wide open air with no wind/rain cover. As we were leaving at 10.30 am the lines were VERY long and the parking lot was pretty much full. If you can- get there early to avoid the wait and the crowds.

LAXNES HORSE FARM

Relaxed and refreshed we got in our rental Kia and went to our hotel north-east of Reykjavik to drop off our stuff before the next adventure of the day- riding Icelandic horses! But not before we stopped for lunch at the famous bakery in Reykjavik called Sandholt.

 

We literally went in, grabbed our lunch and ate it while driving as we were short on time. Almond cream danish was our favorite, but everything tasted amazing and the place looked very cozy.

We picked the Hotel Laxnes based on the price and location. We did not want to be right in the city of Reykjavik, because we planned on driving to the southern part of the island the following day. It had parking included as well as simple but filling breakfast. IMG_2137It could use some updates, but for the little amount of time we spent there it was comfortable and convenient. We even got upgraded to the suite with the balcony overlooking the mountains- only if the weather was more pleasant to be able to enjoy that! There was a jacuzzi outside, but again, due to terrible weather that followed us from Boston we never had a chance to use it.

The rain began as soon as we left the Blue Lagoon. We called the horse farm to double check that the ride is still on. We booked it online a month before the trip and did not check the cancellation policy. Once we got there, the rain was coming down full force and the wind picked up as well. Horses looked sad standing in the rain and I was even less sure this is a good idea.

 

However, Sean has never been on a horse before and it seemed wrong to rob him of this experience, so we decided to give it a go. We were given waterproof jackets and pants as well as the rain boots and helmets. I did not end up wearing their boots, because they had no insulation and my feet were freezing before I even got on the horse. As we were settled in our saddles, I double checked- “Are we REALLY going in this terrible weather?!”. The guide looked at me in disbelief : “This is not bad weather. This is Iceland. We do not cancel anything because of rain!”  OK then. We are riding the horses in the rain for the next 1hr and 45 min!

In the beginning I was pretty grouchy- no sleep, cold, rain- I am sure all of those combined would not necessarily make anyone jump in joy. Sean was VERY excited though 🙂 .

 

As the ride went on, my spirits lifted. The horses seemed to be enjoying it too- even galloping  at times. They were all well behaved and for the most part stayed together in a group (it was 12 of us including the two guides). The rain subsided and I was able to take some pictures/videos with my wet and frozen hands- the gloves were not waterproof, but at the end we came back happy with the experience.

 

I would not want to do it in the rain again, but would highly recommend this farm for anyone interested in the horseback riding in Iceland.

Sunset was at 4pm, but it got darker even earlier due to all the clouds/rain. We went back to the hotel and had about an hour long nap after being up for about 30 hours straight. We did not want to drive half an hour into Reykjavik for dinner, so looked up a well rated place near by – Gallery Fiskur. It’s a father/son run restaurant and we could not have been happier to have found it! Dinner was absolutely incredible- BBQ duck and peppered halibut for main courses, creme brulee and brownie sundae for dessert- it was absolutely delightful and not at all overpriced!

 

We came to Iceland with all the stories about how expensive food is, but it was very much in line with Boston prices.

SATURDAY

SOUTHERN COAST

With so much accomplished yesterday, it feels like we have been in Iceland for several days rather than twenty four hours! But there is a lot more we want to see and explore, so we set our alarm for 7 am, have light breakfast at the hotel and get on the road. We are limited to six hours of daylight, so in order to maximize the short day, we decided to get to our furthest point of the drive just around dawn and make our way back in sort of a circle. We chose to explore southern coast of Iceland on this trip as we’ve heard it’s more scenic than the famous Golden Circle. To do so, we took Route 1 towards the town called Vik.

As we started driving, the weather progressively got worse. Pitch black darkness even by 8.30 in the morning, rain, wind and to top it off- fog! I have not been in the worse driving conditions to date.

IMG_0024
This was 8.30am before the fog came!

For about ten minutes, which felt like forever, we were pretty much driving blindly, barely seeing the white line marking the side of the road, holding our breath and praying to stay on the road. There was no shoulder to pull over nor was there an exit or gas station to wait it out until sunrise. We made it. Eventually the fog lifted and driving in the rain seemed like a piece of cake. We are weathering this storm and seeing Iceland no matter what!

We lost some time because we were driving two times slower than the speed limit, so we made it to the furthest point-  Reynisfjara black sand beach just around 11 am.

REYNISFJARA

The beach and the cliffs around it were even more impressive in person than what we’ve seen in the photos. Huge waves were crashing into the shore and the contrast of the black sand was magnificent.

 

The formations of the rocks made great photo ops and a lot of people were wearing bright colored clothes just for that reason. Yes, I brought a yellow raincoat partially for the pictures too. Little did I know how  much it will come in handy!

 

This beach was one of the highlights of the whole trip.

We did not get blown away into the ocean, so let’s move to the next stop- Dyrholaey. And take pictures of sheep along the way of course 🙂 .

 

DYRHOLAEY

About 20 minutes drive away (short part of the road was  gravel with sharp turns going up the hill) we reached another amazing spot. Even in the fog the views were grand, I can only imagine this place on a clear sunny day!

 

Fighting the wind (and holding on to those car doors while getting in and out of the car) we snap a few photos and are ready to continue back to Route 1 towards the waterfalls. First one not to be missed- Skogafos.

SKOGAFOS

You really CAN’T miss it- the sign is very clear and the waterfall is a short drive off the main road. You can walk up front or climb up the steps for a different angle view. We did not have the time to go up the steps and quite frankly did not want to get rained on more than absolutely necessary.

 

Just another short drive later, we reach even more amazing waterfall- Seljalandsfoss.

SELJALANDSFOSS

If I absolutely had to choose between the two waterfalls, this one would be my favorite. Mainly because you can walk behind it! It is also located right off of Route 1 and does not require much effort to get to.

 

Travel tip: Bring waterproof pants and jacket when going to Iceland. Weather changes quickly and especially going behind this waterfall in the wind we would have been drenched if not for the waterproof clothes.

The sun that never really came out is going to set pretty soon, so we are forced to make a decision on what to cut out of our plans and what to try and see before it gets dark again. I really wanted to see the 1973 plane wreck that ran out of fuel and crashed on the black sand beach (everyone survived!). The abandoned plane is still there and it would have been amazing photo opportunities. However, even though parking for the site was close by, we read online that it takes about 45 minutes walk each way. Even if it was not bad weather, we simply did not have enough daylight left. So we chose to go to the other two points and leave the plane for the next visit to Iceland.

KERID CRATER

We left Route 1 and entered what is typically called the Golden Circle. We did not have time to do the circle, but managed to get to the volcanic crater and it was worth the stop!

 

There are steps to go down to the lake and we would have done it on any given day, but cold rain beating down on our faces we held on to each other to not be blown away and decided that the walk down is not for these conditions.

THINGVELIR NATIONAL PARK

Last but not least before the darkness comes- Thingvelir National Park. The park is big, with many tourist attractions. We were only able to see the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates separate.

 

To find the actual site was not as easy- GPS did not recognize the correct coordinates, so if you want to see the tectonic plates separation area, look for signs that point to Almannagja. Once there, you will not miss it.

And this was all we could manage to fit in the 6 hours of light. Not too bad if I say so myself 🙂 . We got out of our wet clothes and went into Reykjavik for dinner- we chose MAT Bar restaurant based on our friends recommendation. We have not had time to stop for lunch and had been living on our snacks brought from the states, so to have a good dinner was a MUST. And so we did.

 

The place has AMAZING small plates and not one of the five that we had were disappointing. We enjoyed steak tartare, scallops, lamb dumplings, tacos and mashed cauliflower – everything was delicious. We just need dessert. For that we went to a nearby crepes and ice cream place – Eldur og is. As you can see, we had a pretty good outcome 🙂 . Hazelnut ice cream for the win!

 

SUNDAY

REYKJAVIK

Well, our week in Iceland is over…Oh wait, we have only been here for 2 days 🙂 ! I wonder why does it feel so much longer? Maybe because we went non stop 🙂 ?! So why should we stop now? We have until 2 pm to return our rental car and be at the airport. That means we have the whole half a day to explore the city! We ‘slept in’ until 8, had breakfast and by the time we got to town all the rain that followed us for the past two days has stopped! Isn’t that a treat?! We don’t have to wear those ‘sexy’ rain pants today 🙂 !

Parking is free on the streets on Sunday, so we left our car close to the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral- the tallest church in Iceland and set off to explore the city.

 

It is not very big and the center with all the shops and lots of restaurants is concentrated in the two main streets close to the cathedral. The church closed for service from 10.30 until 12.15 on Sunday, so we decided to walk around and come back when it reopens.

 

It was a pleasant walk around the colorful houses and one of them just so happened to be a bakery.  We were walking down towards the seafront and saw this colorful wall with deliciously looking baked goods in the window, so of course we decided to walk inside. Who cares that we have just had breakfast!

 

Braud and Co had the BEST cinnamon rolls around. We actually came back after our walk to get some more for our flight 🙂 .

 

Talking about seafront. It’s worth stopping by or going for a walk along the waterfront promenade. We stopped by the famous Sun Voyager– the sculpture built of stainless steel and the artist’s interpretation of a dream boat and ode to the sun. It symbolizes light and hope and was unveiled in 1990  to mark 200th birthday of Reykjavik city.

 

We walked down the path along the water to the port and visited Flea Market nearby.  Still pricey, but a lot cheaper than the shops downtown.

 

Without rushing we circled back to the church enjoying the views of the cute houses along the way.

 

It was right before 12.15 and the line for the tickets to go up to the top of the church tower started to form. We were one of the first ones in and I am glad we came right as it was opening- it was nice to enjoy the views without sharing the windows with the crowds and by the time we got down there was already a line going all the way around the corner. It was $8 for adults and I would say well worth it.

 

CONCLUSION

It was intense few days. We were tired and delirious. We were cold and wet at times. But at the end we both agreed it was an awesome adventure and we would do it again in a heartbeat.  Iceland, we saw enough to come back to explore more!

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